My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Muskegon State Game Area

I’m so unbelievably lucky!

So, in my last post I had photos of two of the three bald eagles I saw that day, and also two species of falcons, the merlin and peregrine falcon. What I didn’t get a photo of, and it really bothered me, was of one of three kestrels that I saw that same day. Then, there were at least eight red-tailed hawks, the sandhill cranes, several species of shorebirds, a quite a few ducks around also. I was thinking about that when it hit me just how spoiled I have become.

There are only three species of falcons seen regularly in Michigan, the peregrine…

Peregrine falcon

Peregrine falcon

…merlin…

Merlin

Merlin

 

…and kestrels, which I wasn’t able to get a usable photo of that day, even though I have in the past.

Kestrel

American Kestrel

There are five species of falcons that have been seen in Michigan in total, the three mentioned above, along with the Gyrfalcon, which is an occasional winter visitor to Michigan when some of them migrate south from their usual home on the Arctic tundra. Also, one report of a juvenile Prairie Falcon seen four years ago about 100 miles northwest of where I live. That one may have been blown here in a storm, or being a juvenile, it may have wandered several hundred miles outside of that specie’s normal range looking for a territory of its own.

Most people have never seen one species of falcons, I see three in one day, and get bummed out because I didn’t get a good photo of one of the three, just how spoiled am I? Of course the one that I missed is the cutest of the three.

I haven’t been posting any photos of ducks lately, it’s molting season for them, and they all look like female mallards right now, even the males.

Male mallard molting

Male mallard molting

I did a cropped version of that photo, but I like the full size version better, with the mallard on the tan rocks and the green water behind him.

Even the male wood ducks are looking a little drab this time of year, although you can see that this one is beginning to grow new brightly colored feathers.

Wood duck

Wood duck

But when he saw me shooting his picture, he hid the bright feathers and kicked it up to top gear.

Wood duck

Wood duck

I caught this blue winged teal showing some color as well.

Blue winged teal in flight

Blue winged teal in flight

What I haven’t posted many photos of from my trips along the lakeshore, including Muskegon, Grand Haven, and other spots, has been the more common songbirds. I have shot a few photos of them, but I usually tell myself not to bother, I can get photos of them around home. That hasn’t been true this year. For one thing, I don’t have time to walk everyday like I used to, but there’s something else going on as well.

This spring, all the usual songbirds that nest in the park where I walk showed up right on cue. However, very few of them remained to nest here, and I don’t know why that is. Last year, several pairs of Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, eastern kingbirds, and other songbirds nested and raised their young here. This year, they all moved on other than one pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks, which I was able to shoot photos of. As soon as the young fledged, they left also. I don’t know if it’s because of predators, particularly house cats running free, or some other reason the birds didn’t stick around.

Oh, while looking through my recent photos to see what to post, I found some of a kestrel from August 13th of this year.

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

American kestrel

Since I’m back to the falcons, here’s a photo from back during the Memorial Day weekend, shot at Grand Haven, Michigan.

Peregrine falcon in a man-made nesting box

Peregrine falcon in a man-made nesting box

I know that it isn’t a good photo, but it shows one reason that peregrine falcons are increasing in numbers. There are man-made nesting boxes like that built for them in several towns and cities, including Grand haven, Muskegon, and even Grand Rapids.

And yes, I have photos from all the way back in May that I haven’t gotten around to posting yet. Now is as good of time as any to begin catching up, so here goes.

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

 

Trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans

 

Juvenile caspian tern

Juvenile caspian tern

 

Two great blue herons in flight

Two great blue herons in flight

 

White-throated sparrow

White-throated sparrow

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

 

Grey catbird collecting stuff to use in its nest

Grey catbird collecting stuff to use in its nest

 

Female yellow-dumped warbler

Female yellow-rumped warbler

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Double crested cormorants in flight

Double crested cormorants in flight

 

Common tern in flight

Common tern in flight

 

Purple martins

Purple martins

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

Male yellow warbler

Male yellow warbler

 

Male common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat

 

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

 

Green heron

Green heron

 

Grasshopper sparrow

Grasshopper sparrow

 

Northern rough-winged swallow

Northern rough-winged swallow

 

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

 

Male orchard oriole

Male orchard oriole

 

Horned lark

Horned lark

 

Eastern meadowlark and red-winged blackbird

Eastern meadowlark and red-winged blackbird

 

Male Eastern towhee

Male Eastern towhee

 

Male Eastern towhee

Male Eastern towhee

Sorry about the poor quality of the towhee photos, it was the only time this year that I saw one in the open, and it was raining at the time. I had the wipe the lens several times just to get those photos.

That reminds me to say that you should always try to get the best possible image in the camera that you possibly can. But, it’s not always easy to do so. One thing that I have learned is that with digital photography, if you’re going to miss on the exposure settings, it is better to over-expose the image than to under-expose it. That’s the exact opposite of what I learned when shooting slide film, you never over-exposed an image, there was no way to save an over-exposed slide. In fact, with Kodachrome, it was recommended that you under-expose what your light meter called for by one-third to one-half stop.

Under-exposing a digital image and trying to brighten it in any software introduces noise that I can’t remove no matter how I try to remove it. On the other hand, software is able to bring down the exposure quite a bit without any adverse effects showing up in the images.

Adding these photos will put me over my self-imposed limit, but what the heck, I’m trying to get caught up here.

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

 

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird

 

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

 

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

 

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

 

Great crested flycatcher

Great crested flycatcher

All birds, I’m sorry about that. No flowers, insects, or cute squirrels in this post, I’ll have to make up for it in my next one. That will be hard to do though, fall migration has begun in earnest. The red-winged blackbirds that spent the summer here are already gone, as one example. There will be more through here later on, as the ones that spent the summer farther north move through. It’s the same with some of the shorebirds also, more are being reported all the time.

Fall is coming, sooner than what I want, but you can’t change the progression of seasons. There are hints of color in the leaves of some trees already, and fall flowers are beginning to bloom.  I’m going to try to pack in as many photos this fall as I can, because after fall comes winter, and the endless dreary days under lake effect clouds here. I have been making a few plans for the fall, but so much depends on my work schedule that I’m never sure if those plans will come to fruition or not, we’ll see.

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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Jumping ahead, Muskegon June 21st, making progress

Even though I still have many photos from previous trips to the Muskegon and Grand Haven areas, I’m going to jump ahead and do a post with photos from just my last trip. That’s because I learned some new things, and other things that I knew were really driven home to me. So, be prepared for some of my babbling on about photography as I start this post, and here’s the reason why. And by the way, you can click on any photo for a larger view.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

It had rained overnight, but for once, the weather forecast was correct, and the skies were just beginning to clear when I arrive at the Muskegon County wastewater treatment facility. I like to make that my first stop when I’m getting there at sunrise, because it’s open there, and enough light to shoot wildlife just after sunrise, since there’s no trees or hills to cast shadows.

Seeing that there could be a good sunrise, I shot a couple of test photos handheld to check exposures and which lens to use, then set-up my tripod with one of the 60D bodies and the EF-S 15-85 mm lens on it. I actually remembered to get everything set correctly, I got the focus where I wanted it, then switched off the auto-focus so that there’d be no changes as I shot series of photos to create a HDR image, which is what you see above. I shut off the image stabilization, since the camera was on the tripod. I set the mirror lock-up to reduce camera shake, and even got out my flash unit, which doubles as a remote shutter release, so that I wouldn’t have to touch the camera to fire the shutter. I even remembered to use the camera’s electronic level to make sure that my horizon would be straight.

However, that still wasn’t enough to get that image, for I messed up the composition at first.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

That’s an earlier shot, and you can see that I got one of the buildings in the frame, which I didn’t want. In my defense, it was rather dark yet, as you can tell, and the viewfinder of the 60D doesn’t show 100% of what will end up in the photo. Canon claims that it shows 96%, I think that they are pushing it. The difference has burned me before, both in macros, when I think that I have filled the frame with the subject, and in landscapes, when things that I thought were just outside the frame ended up in my photos. This is what I see when I look through the viewfinder…

Daylily

Day lily

….but, this is what I get in the final image.

Dayliy

Day lily

Okay, enough of that, back to the sunrise photos. The second one isn’t a HDR image, it’s one that I processed in Lightroom just to see if I could get the desired results. Since the building being in the frame ruined the photo, it was time to play. Yes, Lightroom certainly made a big difference, but at a cost. You can’t see it in the smaller size as it appears here, but there’s tons of noise in the shadows, too much to be removed. If I were to print that second photo, it would look horrible because of the noise. You can only raise the shadow detail so much in Lightroom before that happens.

The next step was to load the images into Photomatix to create a HDR image, I tried tone mapping…

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

Muskegon marsh sunrise, tone mapped

…but that looks fake, as the shadows are almost completely gone, the green of the grass is over saturated, and tone mapping destroyed the special lighting that only occurs around sunrises and sunsets. They are called the golden hours for a reason, because of the way the light is bent as it passes through the atmosphere, it takes on a golden glow, which is gone in the tone mapped version.

Here’s the exposure fusion version of the same image as above.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Muskegon marsh sunrise, exposure fusion

Much better, the golden glow is there, but the building is also still there. I finally noticed that, but I got sidetracked for a little bit, when a cedar waxwing flew out in front of me, and perched in front of the sunrise. I cautiously grabbed the 7D with the 300 mm L series lens on it for this shot.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

There’s some real advantages to having more than one camera, and there’s one of them! Also, the 300 mm lens is much better than the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) in low light, so I had even prepared in advance, and had the right lens on the camera for the time of day that I’d be starting out at. I was lucky, the waxwing stuck around long enough for me to select the right focus points to get that shot. Even more amazing, it hung around, giving me time to move slightly, change the camera position to portrait, and select the correct focus points, to get this shot.

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

Cedar waxwing at sunrise

If I would have had to remove the camera from the tripod, switch lenses, and change almost every camera setting, I would have missed that photo. I suppose that I could try to remove the insects that look like spots in the lower part of the frame, maybe when I have more time, I’ll give it a try. And, I wish that the upper branch didn’t obstruct the view of the waxwing’s crest, but it would be a miracle if things went perfectly for me. 😉

Anyway, back to the sunrise. I repositioned the camera and tripod, and shot this.

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

Muskegon marsh sunrise, wrong workflow

I captioned that “wrong workflow, for not only do you need the right camera equipment, set correctly, and the right software to process digital images, you need to do the processing of images in the correct order to get the best results.

The very first image in this post, and that last one, are the HDR versions of the same three images, the difference between the two is the difference in the order that I did things. In that last photo, actually done first, I did the exposure fusion in Photomatix first, then went in and removed chromatic aberration, allowed the lens profile correction in Lightroom, and adjusted the color balance, to name a few things. Then, I remembered that you’re supposed to do all those things to the RAW images first, before loading them into Photomatix. So, that’s what I did, I cleaned up the RAW images in Lightroom first, then did the exposure fusion in Photomatix, and finally, did a bit of tweaking to the resulting image in Lightroom to get the best results, which I will add here again so that the difference is more apparent.

Muskegon marsh sunrise

Muskegon marsh sunrise

The differences may be subtle, but they’re enough to make a big difference in the overall appearance of the image. And that reminds me, a few months ago I said that the HDR images I produced looked better since I was loading the RAW images from Lightroom into Photomatix (The HDR software) in 16 bit Tiff format, rather than sending the RAW images directly to Photomatix. It turns out that I wasn’t imagining things, Kerry Mark Leibowitz, who shoots some of the best landscape photos I have ever seen, confirmed that while Photomatix can handle RAW images, it can’t handle them well. The only way to get really good HDR images in Photomatix is to use other software to do the RAW conversion first, as I’m doing now with Lightroom, then let Photomatix create the HDR images.

Maybe the most amazing thing about the sunrise photos is how proud of them I am, for what they are. A sunrise over a man-made marsh designed to remove contaminants from water at a wastewater treatment facility. 😉

One of these days though, it will be of something really special, and I think that I’m much better prepared for when that happens. I’m getting very close to having the camera settings down for those types of photos, and I’m learning the software end of it by shooting these types of photos.

Being prepared is everything, for as I said earlier, I had the 300 mm lens on the 7D and all set to go when this great blue heron decided that I had gotten too close to it.

Great blue heron taking flight

Great blue heron taking flight

I continued to shoot photos of the heron…

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

…the auto-focusing of the 7D had locked onto the heron, which gave me this as the heron circled me.

Great blue heron in flight

Misty morning heron in flight

Since I purchased the 7D Mk II, I’ve had lots of good things to say about it, and it’s difficult not to fill every post with praise for the 7D. I said some time ago that I wanted to begin exploring more artistic photos, and the 7D is the camera to do that with. Not only is the auto-focus great for birding, but the other features of the camera lend themselves to the more artistic images, as I hope that you’ll see in later posts.

However, the rare birds on this trip were shot with my “old standbys”, one of the 60D bodies with the Beast attached.

Egyptian geese

Egyptian geese

Egyptian goose

Egyptian goose

I don’t get to count those in the My Photo Life List project, as they’re not on the list from the Audubon Society, they’re probably escapees from some one’s farm, or some one’s pets that got away, and are taking up residence at the wastewater plant.

One of the 60D bodies was also responsible for these, shot with the macro lens.

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory and unidentified insect

Chicory

Chicory

Alfalfa flowers

Alfalfa flowers

Timothy grass flowers?

Timothy grass flowers?

Whether you find these cute or not is a matter of personal taste I suppose, but they are newly hatched birds, in this case, gulls.

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

Very young unidentified gull

This was the first nice, sunny day when I’ve gotten out in some time, and between how late in the year it is already, and the nice weather, finding wildlife was harder than usual.  I’ve always said that bad weather is the best time to see wildlife, up to a point, and it held true on this day.

I did find an assortment of sparrows to photograph.

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

And, I almost found a dickcissel singing, but he chose to stay mostly hidden on this day.

Dickcissel singing

Dickcissel singing

I didn’t have the same problem with this guy!

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

He hopped over to another branch and did some wing and leg stretches to warm up…

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

…then started belting out his favorite song again.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

I’m going to post this one, just because I can.

Male Indigo bunting

Male Indigo bunting

One of his kids was hoping that dad would do less singing, and more looking for food.

Juvenile Indigo bunting

Juvenile Indigo bunting

It tried its best to convince dad that it was hungry.

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

Juvenile Indigo bunting begging for food

I think dad thought that the youngster was old enough to find some of its own food, for while dad did feed the youngster, dad ignored the young bird for much of the time that I watched the two of them together.

This year is flying past me, there’s already plenty of young birds around, and some of the birds are beginning to molt into their fall colors, or I should say, lack of colors. I had plenty of chances to shoot mallards, but didn’t bother, as they are already molting, as is this guy.

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

Male rose-breasted grosbeak

He was really too far away for a good photo, and on that note, I’ll add a few more not so good photos, just for the record of what I saw this day, starting with three different juvenile bald eagles that I found on the northern edge of the wastewater property. I spotted the first as it perched on one of the irrigation sprayers…

Juvenile bald eagle

Juvenile bald eagle

…I tried sneaking up on it to get closer, that didn’t work…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…and as I was walking back to my car, eagle two took off from somewhere in the woods for this bad photo…

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

…to top it off, as I was getting back in my car, eagle three took off from even closer to where I had parked.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

It looks as though it has been a great year for a bumper crop of eagles! I still can’t believe that I didn’t spot the other two eagles earlier though, they’re huge and hard to miss.

A couple of more for the record shots, I don’t remember why I had pointed the camera at these, a female mallard and her brood, along with a gadwall.

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Female mallard, her young, and a gadwall

Maybe it was because I thought it odd that the gadwall was hanging out with the mallards, but the gadwall was a rude one, for I guess it thought that the mallards weren’t moving quickly enough, it nipped the female mallard in the butt to get her to move faster.

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

Gadwall nipping a female mallard in the butt

There are jerks in the bird world too, for how could the gadwall nip a poor mallard mother positioning herself to protect her young? It’s not as if the gadwall moved any quicker once the mallards were out of its way.

Another slightly unusual occurrence, a wood duck in the east storage lagoon, which is like a man-made lake nearly one mile square.

Wood duck in open water

Wood duck in open water

I do see wood ducks there at the wastewater facility, but never out in open water like that, they typically stick to the smaller ponds and canals, closer to cover. In the wild, I never see them in the open, they are always close to, or in cover.

I’m not sure about this next photo, I don’t think that I took enough time to get it right when I shot it. I was going for a spotted sandpiper, but as I was looking for it through the camera, I saw this, and shot the photo.

Grass

Grass

Then shot the spotted sandpiper.

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

One thing that I haven’t learned how to do is sneak up on birds that live in open fields, like this bobolink.

Male bobolink singing

Male bobolink singing

That’s as close as I could get using the Beast and cropping quite a bit.

I’m much better at sneaking up on birds in the woods…

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

…and getting a quick photo or two before they spot me.

Eastern wood pewee

Eastern wood pewee

Then, there are the birds that don’t seem to mind that I’m close when I shoot their portraits.

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Even though I’m over my self-imposed limit for photos, I have one more left to share.

Milkweed flowers

Milkweed flowers

I probably won’t be returning to the wastewater facility until the fall bird migration begins in August, which isn’t that far away. There are too many other places that I like that I haven’t visited this year, one of them being Lost Lake in Muskegon State Park. If we get a few hours of good light this weekend, Lost Lake, and the plants, flowers, and insects there, may be my destination.

I’m sorry for so many of the sunrise/landscapes in the beginning, but I’m still coming to grips with the idea that $200 worth of software, and using it correctly, is as important as any piece of actual photo gear to getting good landscape images. Now, if I could convince the birds to hold perfectly still long enough to get three shots of them, I’d try a HDR image of a bird. 😉

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


More highlights from several lakeshore trips

Where do I start? I’m attempting to reduce the photos that I shot while on several trips to the Lake Michigan shore down to just one post, and it’s tough deciding what photos to use, and which ones to delete.

For example, I’ve posted quite a few photos of northern shovelers lately, but does that mean that I shouldn’t post one of my best of one of the shovelers in flight?

Male northern shoveler in flight

Male northern shoveler in flight

What about ruddy ducks, I’ve posted a lot of images of them lately as well, but if I catch one napping on the rocks and get very close to it before it notices me, I think that I should add it here.

Female ruddy duck in the rain

Female ruddy duck in the rain

Or, if I catch one flying near a mallard, I think that I shot post it to help out those who are learning how to identify birds. Not only is the mallard much larger, it’s long and lean compared to the ruddy duck. Its short, wide wings are really pronounced when viewed next to a mallard.

Ruddy duck and male mallard in flight

Ruddy duck and male mallard in flight

Even without a mallard near it, you can still see that the ruddy ducks have a completely different profile while they are flying, along with a completely different pattern of flapping their wings.

Ruddy duck in flight

Ruddy duck in flight

Not to mention those oversized feet!

Should I leave out my sunrise photos, even if the sunrise was less than I had hoped that it would be?

Sunrise at the lagoons

Sunrise at the lagoons

What if there’s a rare bird in the sunrise photo, such as a pelican?

American white pelican at sunrise

American white pelican at sunrise

Should I delete the photo where I zoomed in on the pelican, and cropped it severely also?

American white pelican

American white pelican

It isn’t every day that one sees a pelican, or an angry sun, just after sunrise.

Angry sun

Angry sun

What about the zoomed in version, where the sun looks even angrier?

Angrier sun

Angrier sun

Then, there’s this photo, shot before any of the sunrise photos.

Killdeer before sunrise

Killdeer before sunrise

I didn’t add any effects from Lightroom, other than basic exposure correction. The killdeer would stand perfectly still, until a wave broke over the rock it was standing on. Then, the killdeer would pluck any goodies the wave had brought, and then return to standing perfectly still again. The shutter speed was 1/3 of a second, long enough to blur the motion of the water, but other than the one feather blowing in the wind, the bird was still enough for a reasonably sharp photo. It also shows the effectiveness of image stabilization, for that was shot with me bracing the camera against the door of my car. Other than a great blue heron stalking its prey, I’ve never seen a bird stand as motionless as that killdeer, which I found quite interesting.

I go to the lakeshore for the birds, but I see other things, should I leave them out?

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

Female snapping turtle laying eggs

English plantain

English plantain

Black racer?

Black racer?

Early sunflower?

Early sunflower?

Early sunflowers?

Early sunflowers?

Red clover

Red clover

And if I do include subjects other than birds, how many should I use? Take deer for example, one good shot of a doe and last year’s fawn?

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Should I stop there, or include one that shows the graceful power of a deer as it runs?

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

Or, should I include this portrait…

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

…as she stopped to check me out, and to remember a moment, which I missed…

Whitetail deer after being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

Whitetail deer after being attacked by a red-winged blackbird

…because I thought that I had enough photos of the deer and was zooming the lens out in preparation of putting it away, until I saw the blackbird smack the deer in the butt, sending the deer on its way.

What about this one of a buck just starting to grow what look like they will be a good set of antlers?

Whitetail buck

Whitetail buck

He’d better hide better than that come hunting season!

I’ve been telling myself that I shouldn’t go to the lakeshore as often, but that’s the area that works best when the weather won’t cooperate. As you can see, most of these photos were shot in low light, but they weren’t all shot at sunrise. The weather pattern here remains the same, with some rain almost every day. Continuing a trend, we’ve had rain 10 of the last 11 days. No complete washout, when it rains all day, but scattered on and off showers every now and then. Along the lakeshore, I can stay in my vehicle while it’s raining, then take short walks in between the showers, rather than be out in the rain. The funny thing is that I don’t usually mind walking in the rain, but not when it’s an everyday thing, this is getting ridiculous!

The places that I go along the lakeshore are relatively close together, so if I time it right, I can move from one place to the next while it’s raining, and once the rain let’s up, wander around a bit to see what I can find.

I have to throw in a short segment about my project to photograph every species of bird regularly seen in Michigan. I have photos that would put me to the two-thirds mark as far as species photographed, which is quite an achievement, not that I’m bragging. 😉 That’s in just over two years since the idea to do a photo life list hit me. I haven’t posted anything towards that series in a while, since I don’t have the time to do so right now. Besides, with all the flowers, wildlife, and other subjects to shoot, I’m still way behind on my posting anyway. I’ll resume that series this winter, when I don’t have many other photos to share.

But, I have to say a few things about taking on a project like that, and what I’m learning from it. One thing is how to shoot better photos, of course. But, it’s been so much more than that. Learning the behaviors of the different species of birds that allows me to get as close to them as I do. Learning new places to go, and coming to appreciate different types of habitat much more.

I grew up in the woods, and I’ve always leaned towards hiking in heavily wooded areas, such as the Pigeon River Country. I avoided swamps and marshes, especially in the summer when the skeeters, deer flies, and black flies can make you wish that you had never set foot outdoors. Well, in the spring and fall, before or after the bugs, those are beautiful places in their own right, and home to many species of birds that I never knew existed.

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

Before starting the My Photo Life List project, I avoided open fields, as I thought that they were boring, hardly, for I’m finding just the opposite to be true, if I take the time to learn what there is to see in an open field.

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Male dickcissel singing

Those were shot on two different days, obviously, the reason that I included the second one is that after that male finished his song, he’d look high and low to see if any females were responding, which I found to be very humorous.

Male dickcissel looking for a mate

Male dickcissel looking for a mate

Another thing that I’ve learned from taking on the My Photo Life List project is to appreciate “my” part of the state of Michigan even more than I did. When I first thought of that project, I thought that I’d be traveling to different parts of Michigan much more to get as far as what I have. Yes, I’ve gotten a few species of birds on my trips north, but most have come within 45 miles of home. Really surprising has been the number of species that I’ve gotten while doing my daily walks from my apartment, when I’m never more than two miles from the door of my apartment.

I thought that I was observant before, but since starting this project, my eyes have been truly opened to just what there is to see close to home, if one takes the time to look. It also begs the question, why didn’t I see these species of birds before? Well, some of them I probably had seen before, but never took the time to look them up in a field guide to positively identify them. To me, any small brown bird that hopped on the ground most of the time was a sparrow, the exact species didn’t matter to me. There was also a time when I was hiking at Muskegon State Park when I saw what I thought looked like a flock of pelicans flying high overhead, but I had no idea at the time that pelicans were ever seen in Michigan, so I assumed that my eyes were tricking me. Little did I know at the time that pelicans do visit my neck of the woods regularly.

Another thing that I’m learning is that you have to be careful driving, or even walking around this time of year, for there are lot’s of these around.

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

The only way that I know that it’s a spotted sandpiper is because mom was nearby, having a fit. That little thing was so small that any gust of wind would blow it over, so I shot one more photo…

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

Just hatched spotted sandpiper

…and then turned around.

I’m also happy to report that there seems to be a bumper crop of these this year.

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Juvenile upland sandpiper

Their dad would fly around me, at one moment looking as if he were going to attack…

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

…and the next, he would pretend that he was injured and flutter to the ground, a good distance away from his young.

Upland sandpiper in flight

Upland sandpiper in flight

Mom, on the other hand, placed herself between her young and the big bad photographer, ready to take him on if he approached to close.

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Female upland sandpiper defending her young

Once she thought that her young were safely hidden in the grass, she changed tactics, and performed the “broken wing” act, to lead me away from the young.

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Female upland sandpiper pretending to be injured

Once I had moved far enough away, she’d give one last look to make sure that I was leaving, then rejoin her young in the tall grass.

Female upland sandpiper

Female upland sandpiper

On the opposite end of the cuteness scale from the young sandpipers are these birds.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

But, I can’t end on that note, so here’s one more photo, just to brighten up your day.

Dark-eyed junco

Dark-eyed junco

Yes, that’s how far behind I am, that photo shows the leaves just beginning to emerge, and the Juncos were still around before heading north to their summer homes. As it’s now getting towards the end of June, some of the birds have already begun to molt into their fall plumage. This year is racing past me at a blinding speed, but it’s my own fault, for working as much as I have this year, because I’m greedy. However, there’s a reason for that right now.

I returned to the Muskegon area again yesterday, and while I didn’t find many birds to photograph, the subjects that I did find to shoot really drove home the need to have the correct equipment for the subject at hand. Luckily, for what I found to photograph, I did have the right stuff with me, for I used more of my camera gear yesterday than I have in a very long time. I have one more lens that I want to purchase, and a few more accessories, so I’m willing to work long hours right now to complete my kit, then, I’ll back off from work, and spend more time enjoying life.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


It does get easier

With several budding birders and bird photographers following my blog, I thought that it would be a good time to pass on a few tips on how to identify birds quickly, and maybe a few tips on photographing birds. That’s because on one of my recent trips to the Lake Michigan shoreline, I noticed that I was identifying ducks in poor light, and at longer distances, when two years ago, I had a difficult time telling a scaup from a grebe, which isn’t really a duck to begin with.

First of all, taking photos so that you have time to consult field guides to help you make the ID is a good idea, but it isn’t often that a male in full breeding plumage of any species will calmly swim past you in nearly optimal conditions so that you get a great shot.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

You may ask yourself why I chose a northern shoveler, when by the size of their snout, they should be easy to ID. Well, yes and no, you can’t always see their bill for one thing.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

And, they have about the same colors as male mallards do, but in different places.

Male mallard and northern shovelers

Male mallard and northern shovelers

Sometimes, the northern shovelers will even try to act like a mallard by being goofy.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

But, they just aren’t as good at being goofy as mallards are.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

So, if you go back to the photo of the mallard with the shovelers, you can see that both species are very close to being the same overall length, but that mallards are stockier, shovelers are long and lean, and therefore, appear to ride lower in the water than what mallards do. After you see them often enough, every species of duck presents a different profile when seen at a distance.

So, it isn’t only by color that one can go by, it is many things, size, shape, behavior, and I’ll try to touch on more as I go along here.

If you see a small duck, less than half the size of an adult mallard, it’s probably a ruddy duck, positively if it has its tail sticking straight up.

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

So, even if the light is poor, if you see this…

Ruddy ducks

Ruddy ducks

…you know that they’re ruddy ducks. You don’t need a great view of them, just their profile and a few hints of their colors are enough to make the ID.

The only duck close in size to a ruddy duck is a wood duck, and there’s no mistaking an adult male wood duck for any other species.

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

You could mistake a female wood duck for another species, but even that isn’t easy to do, they have such a unique look to them.

Female wood duck in flight

Female wood duck in flight

The most important tip I can give you is that you should take every opportunity that you can to see the same species over and over again, so that you have them memorized. Then, it’s easy to tell a blue-winged teal…

Male blue-winged teal in flight

Male blue-winged teal in flight

…from a green-winged teal…

Male green-winged teal in flight

Male green-winged teal in flight

…from a mallard.

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

And, you’ll know that when you spot a duck that doesn’t have quite the same shape as any of the ducks that you see regularly, that you should try to get a closer look, and see what if any color differences there are between the ducks that you’re familiar with, and those you’re not, such as part of its bill being bright yellow.

Black scoter

Black scoter

I could go on about ducks, as I can now tell a scaup…

Male lesser scaup

Male lesser scaup

…from a grebe…

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…but I’m going to move on to other birds that are far more difficult to ID than ducks are, shorebirds.

One of my first attempts to see, photograph, and identify shorebirds was at Isaacson’s Bay, near Alpena, in northern Michigan. I was walking along the mudflats, scanning way off in the distance expecting to be able to see the shorebirds running around from a distance, then get closer. I nearly stepped on what I thought was a killdeer, except that it didn’t look exactly like a killdeer…

Killdeer

Killdeer

…the bird I nearly stepped on had a colorful bill, and wasn’t as large as a killdeer, it was a semipalmated plover I learned later.

Semi-palmated plover

Semipalmated plover

The first tip I can offer is this, if the shorebird has a short, conical bill, it’s a plover or turnstone. If the bill is long and slender, then the bird is a sandpiper or other related species, such as dowitcher or godwit to name two others.

Again, photos can help, but photos can also be deceiving at times. One mistake that I made early on was trying to isolate one single bird as I have in the photos above. But, when it comes to identifying shorebirds, size is one of the keys. For example, here’s a dunlin and a semipalmated sandpiper (not semipalmated plover, two species that sound alike) together.

Dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper

Dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper

You can see that the dunlin is huge compared to the semipalmated sandpiper, but, there’s an even smaller species of sandpiper, the least sandpiper.

Least sandpiper

Least sandpiper

From my photos, the least sandpiper looks larger than the semipalmated, because I got closer to the least than I did the semipalmated. The semipalmated sandpiper has black legs, the least sandpiper has yellow legs, one of the ways that I can tell them apart.

If you see this…

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

Spotted sandpiper

…then, as the caption says, it’s a spotted sandpiper, one of the easiest to ID. Not only do its spots give it away, but if you see a shorebird bobbing its tail end up and down, it’s a spotted sandpiper

Now then, here’s a lesser yellowlegs, it’s easy to see how they got their name.

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

Here’s a bird that’s about the same size, and has yellowish legs, but it’s an upland sandpiper.

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

It’s easy to tell the difference between these two, by the color of their bills and their markings. Making it even easier is that the upland sandpiper prefers open fields whereas the lesser yellowlegs is almost always near water, so habitat is a huge clue. And, you need every clue that you can find when it comes to shorebirds.

When I blow this photo up on my computer, I can see that the bird’s legs and bill have a greenish tint, which you may not be able to see here. What you can see is that it looks like some one splattered white paint on the bird’s back, making it a solitary sandpiper.

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

Solitary sandpiper

That’s another tip that I use, there isn’t much difference in the markings of the shorebirds, so I use tricks to help me remember those small differences. I can remember splattered with white paint easier than I can remember “Back dark olive with scattered small white spots. Bold white eye ring. Tail distinctly barred. Rump and center tail feathers dark.” as their description on All About Birds reads. Coming up with your own ways to help you remember the markings of birds, rather than relying on descriptions will help you memorize birds as you add them to your life list.

I’ve been lucky, I’ve had several conversations with Brian Johnson, a professional ornithologist, Caleb Putnam, who is in charge of confirming the accuracy of submissions to eBirds, and several other excellent birders over the past two years. One topic comes up time and time again, that even the best field guides are just starting points to identifying birds. The people who write the field guides put a lot of work into them, but there’s no way that they can cover all the regional and seasonal variations in a bird’s plumage, nor account for individual variations.

If you have a bird feeder in your backyard, I’m sure that after a while, you begin to recognize individual birds when they all looked exactly alike to you when the birds first began coming to your feeder. For example, not all male northern cardinals look exactly the same when we see them often and at close range. Some are a deeper red than others, some are plump, some are skinny, and so it goes for all birds. When we start out birding, we think that they are all identical, but they are not, there are variations within all species of birds, and there’s no field guide in the world that can cover them all.

That point was made clear to me while watching Brian at the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve. He was banding birds that day, and as he removed them from the nets used to capture them, he would explain some of the variations shown by the individual bird, literally in hand, as compared to the descriptions in most field guides. It was a very enlightening day to say the least!

I’m not saying that you can’t rely on field guides to be correct, but even the best descriptions, and even photos, are just starting points. You need to pay attention to where and when you saw the bird, any sounds that it may have made, and its behavior, as all are important clues to help identify which species it is.

Another difficulty in using field guides is that you may see a bird in a dense thicket, early in the morning, one poor light…

House wren

House wren

…or, you may see the front of the bird…

House wren

House wren

…when your field guide shows you photos of the species taken in great light taken from the rear of the bird…

House wren

House wren

…making it harder to compare the bird that you saw and/or photographed with what you see in the field guides.

House wren

House wren

Fortunately, wrens seldom keep their mouths shut for very long…

House wren singing

House wren singing

…and their songs are a positive way to ID them. Just make sure that the bird that you think you hear singing is the one actually singing, as these guys…

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

…along with brown thrashers and mockingbirds are very good mimics, and they can sing snippets of many other bird’s songs.

Although they aren’t known for mimicking other birds, one early morning I came across this robin singing softly, but not they typical robin song, it sounded like a catbird, singing parts of other bird’s songs.

American robin

American robin

The sounds the robin was making were just barely audible, but they were definitely bits of the songs of other birds.

If you watched the video of the dunlin in action in my last post, you’ll know that these shorebirds seldom hold still, getting sharp photos of them is often difficult. If they’re not running in search of food, then their heads are bobbing up and down, it’s often referred to as sewing machine movement, and if you watch the video again, you can see why.

Or, here’s a whole lot of them in action.

And, here’s a photo of a lot of dunlin in action.

A flock of dunlin in flight

A flock of dunlin in flight

I included those for a reason, how the birds behave is a clue to their identity. Dunlin are almost always seen in large flocks that stay together, even in flight. The solitary sandpipers got their name because they seldom are seen together in a flock as the dunlin are.

I know that I haven’t said anything that hasn’t been said before, that you need to go by size, shape, color, behavior, and where and when you see a bird to correctly identify it, but hopefully, seeing those things illustrated in photos, along with my personal experiences can help.

My way of remembering birds is photographing them. If you asked me to describe a red-eyed vireo…

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

Red eyed vireo

…other than that they have red eyes, I’d be at a loss for words as to how to describe them. I remember birds by the photos that I take of them, rather than descriptions.

Larger birds are generally easier to photograph, you don’t have to get as close to them, and they tend to move slowly unless you spook them.

Great blue heron

Great blue heron

Small birds typically move quickly no matter what they’re doing when you see them. That makes it tough to get close and get a clear view of them.

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Timing is critical to getting a good photo, you have to anticipate what the bird is going to do before it does what it’s going to do, and be ready when you get that split second chance for a photo, when dealing with small birds.

So, I see a bird that I want to photograph, and I’ll watch what it’s doing, which direction it is moving, and try to get ahead of it in a spot where I think that I have the best chance of seeing it in the clear, and with at least half-way good lighting. If you see a brown creeper, for example, they start at the base of a tree and work their way up, going around the tree as they work their way up. I’ll pick a spot on the tree where I think that the creeper will appear, have the camera focused on that spot, and wait…

Brown creeper

Brown creeper

…and hit the shutter release when the bird appears.

Well, this post is getting quite long already, and I’m really just getting started. So, I’ll sum this one up by saying that both identifying birds, and photographing them, does get easier over time.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The highlights from several lakeshore trips

This is getting ridiculous, I have photos from 6 trips to the lakeshore saved right now. I also have multiple folders full of photos from around home as well. The photos date back to when the willows were just beginning to bloom, as well as the daffodils and trillium.

Going back through the photos, many of them are the same species of birds, but shot on different days, and quite a few of them aren’t very good. Some of that was the cloudy, wet month of May that we had, some of it was because I was arriving at my first stop of the day at sunrise.

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Lone Canada goose at sunrise

Lone Canada goose at sunrise

Ruddy ducks at sunrise

Ruddy ducks at sunrise

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Sunrise at Muskegon

Silly me, I can’t help but shoot photos not only of the sunrises, but I try to shoot photos of the birds and other critters that I see then.

If you want a true handle on the amount of wildlife in any area, be there at sunrise! You may think that there’s a lot of wildlife if you get outside around 8 or 9 AM, but that number pales in comparison to what you’ll see when the sun just starts above the horizon. Of course, getting good photos of the wildlife in that light is next to impossible, but that never stops me, as this photo of an obviously very pregnant deer should tell you.

Pregnant whitetail doe

Pregnant whitetail doe

While she foraged for food close to the ground, this buck that was nearby went for the leaves of a tree that he found to taste the best.

Whitetail buck just beginning to grow his antlers

Whitetail buck just beginning to grow his antlers

The photos that I’ve included so far bring up a point, that when I do a lakeshore trip, I have all my photography gear with me in my vehicle. When I get to some places, such as Lane’s Landing for example, I’m limited in what I carry with me, due to the weight of all my gear, and I miss some great shots because of that. Not birds, I always carry a birding set-up, but I miss flowers…

Appendaged Waterleaf

Appendaged Waterleaf

Unknown flowering object

Unknown flowering object

…and insects.

Unidentified skipper

Unidentified skipper

Now that I’ve brought up photography gear, you know that I’ll have to prattle on about that for a while. 😉

One of the things that I’ve wanted to do now that I have the new Canon 7D Mk II is to try out the 70-200 mm f/4 L series lens that I have on the new body. I got home from work one day with a little bit of extra time, but not enough to go for a walk, so I decided to try that lens out inside. It was a dark and dreary day anyway, so why not stay inside? I handheld the camera for the first few photos, then decided it was stupid to test out the lens/body combination in low light and high ISO settings. So, I set-up my tripod and dialed the ISO down to 100 and shot a series of photos that way. I am happy to report that the 70-200 mm lens works great on the 7D Mk II, just as the 300 mm L series lens does, none of the problems that I had with those lenses on the 60D bodies that I have.

Since I had the camera on the tripod, and still more time to kill, I dialed in the camera’s built-in flash, and also the EX 380 Speedlite, both on the camera, and as a slave unit. It was a very productive afternoon, as I also learned how to get the mirror lockup to function, as well as other camera functions that I hadn’t tried yet.

I’ve done similar tests the past two days, as I have purchased a set of Kenko extension tubes to use. For those who don’t know, extension tubes can turn a regular lens into a macro lens by moving the lens away from the focal plane of the camera, making it as if the lens can focus closer than it actually can without the extension tube(s). The Kenko set, which consists of 12mm, 20mm, 36mm long tubes, costs less than the 20 mm long tube from Canon costs alone. From the reviews, there’s no real difference between the Kenko tubes and those from Canon, and there’s no glass in an extension tube, it is as the name implies, a hollow tube that fits between the camera and lens. These fit all my lenses, I’ve tried them all. The odd thing about the tubes is that they make far more of a difference with short focal length lenses than they do long lenses. Anyway, they add more versatility to every lens I own, here’s a shot of a tiny blue wildflower with all three tubes behind the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) at 150mm.

Tiny blue wildflower

Tiny blue wildflower

And here’s a photo from the Tokina 100 mm macro lens with all three tubes behind it.

Tiny blue wildflower

Tiny blue wildflower

I didn’t crop those photos at all, I wish I could have had something in the frame to show you how small those flowers are, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) across, they look like blue specks scattered across the lawn rather than flowers.

Anyway, I probably won’t use those extension tubes often, but they will come in very handy from time to time in certain situations, so I’d like to have them with me all the time. That goes for the 70-200 mm lens as well, I seldom use it, as I don’t have room for it in the holster camera bag that I’ve been using to carry my gear with me. I think that it’s the second sharpest lens that I own, behind the Tokina macro lens, and I also believe that it delivers the best color rendition, even better than the Tokina. To have a lens like that sitting around and not using it is rather silly.

However, since the 300 mm lens focuses to almost the same distance as the 70-200 mm does, it’s a wiser choice for near macro photos of dragonflies, larger flowers, and butterflies. I’ve gotten some good landscape photos from the Beast set to its shortest focal lengths,, but the 70-200 mm would have been a better choice of lenses.

What I’m getting to is that this week, I’ll be ordering a backpack type camera bag to carry my ever-growing collection of camera gear. No earth shattering news there, but I’m ready for one, as I’m tired of missing shots because I didn’t have the right equipment with me at the time.

Now then, a few words about the 7D Mk II, without a doubt, almost everything it was cracked up to be! I say almost, I can’t say that I see a huge difference in image quality between the 7D and the 60D in low light, High ISO situations. When the Mk II was first released a lot of people, mainly paid Canon spokespersons it turns out, raved about its performance at high ISO settings. Yes, it’s slightly better than the 60D, but I still have to clean up the noise in Lightroom, so really it’s no big deal.

The Auto-focus is something that people raved about which has turned out to be true, no matter how hard birds try to hide from me, if they even breathe hard, the 7D Mk II detects that motion and locks onto them.

Brown thrasher hiding

Brown thrasher hiding

Grasshopper sparrow hiding

Grasshopper sparrow hiding

Since birds are almost always moving, even if they are perched…

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

Hermit thrush twitching its tail

…the 7D seeks them out so well that it’s almost scary at times. But, I’m sure that you’re all tired of hearing about how well the 7D auto-focuses.

The metering system, which few reviewers mentioned, also is better than I expected, I seldom adjust the exposure, the 7D gets it right on its own.

With the new, faster CF memory cards, I have yet to fill the camera’s buffer while shooting in low-speed burst mode, and I’ve tried.

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

Those are just a few of the photos that I shot of that duck, the same goes for these. You can tell by the sour look on the male’s face that he wasn’t happy about another male showing off for his mate.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

So, he decided to show the first male who was head duck around there.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead duck

Redhead duck

I’m not sure, but I think that the female was flirting with the first male behind her mate’s back, both literally, and figuratively.

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

Redhead ducks

A number of waterfowl have hung around longer than they did last year, giving me a chance to get photos of the males in full breeding plumage.

Male ruddy duck

Male ruddy duck

I’ve also been able to observe their behavior more since they’ve been around longer. I’ve seen mallards bobbing their heads up and down while peeping like a chick, but I learned that male northern shovelers do the same thing.

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

Male northern shoveler

I don’t know what the peeping means, but fights often break out soon after.

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

Male northern shovelers fighting

It looks as if the butt bite is a universal thing in the waterfowl world, along with the victor making sure that every one knows who won.

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

Male northern shoveler declaring victory

I mentioned how good it was to have all my gear with me, three camera bodies may seem excessive, but I used all three in short order a couple of times. The 7D Mk II to shoot good stills while using the Beast.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Then using the first 60D body with the 300 mm lens to shoot a video.

And finally, the second 60D body with the Tokina 100 mm lens to get a wider view of mallards wondering what all those small brown birds were that had surrounded the mallards.

Mallards watching assorted shorebirds

Mallards watching assorted shorebirds

I’ve already thrown in too many photos, and I haven’t even gotten to any of the cute ones yet.

Baby fox squirrel

Baby fox squirrel

Or, the good ones.

Common yellowthroat singing

Common yellowthroat singing

So, I guess that they’ll have to wait until the next post.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Going back in time, Muskegon area, April 19, 2015

After my last post, which included several poor images due to the rain and fog, along with my quest to rack up a large number of species of birds just to see how many I could get, I was ruthless in selecting better images for this post. Not that there aren’t a few clinkers here and there, but overall, the images are much better. I see from the date that I’m still nearly a month behind in my postings, that helped me to weed through the photos for this post as well.

It’s been so long ago that my memories of the day have already begun to fade away, I’m not sure, but I think that the was the first weekend after I had purchased the new Canon 7D camera body. I put the 300 mm lens on it, and thought that I had it set-up fairly well for bird in flight photos, but it turns out that I was wrong. Not that it didn’t work well for birds in flight, but as I have used the camera more, and learned more about the auto-focusing system, the settings I used on this day were far from optimum for action photos.

I mounted the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) on one of the 60D bodies, and carrying both cameras, set out looking for birds at Lane’s Landing, in the Muskegon State Game area. I arrived as planned, just after daybreak.

Dawn in the marshes

Dawn in the marshes

The low light made it challenging to get good bird photos, even though they were out and about to greet the day.

American coot

American coot

A pair of geese flew past me, so I grabbed the 7D and turned it loose shooting way too many photos of the geese, but I was testing my settings for the day. That wasn’t a good idea, for the camera hadn’t finished writing all the images to the very slow memory card I had in the camera when a great blue heron flew past me, following the geese. The camera buffer was still almost full, so I only got a few shots of the heron before the buffer was full again, here’s one of the better photos.

Great blue heron in flight

Great blue heron in flight

In some ways, it’s a good thing to be behind in posting these to my blog, as I can look back and see what I did wrong, and I know what I’ve learned since then. Getting to know the 7D has been a real learning experience, and I feel that I’m just coming to grips with what it can do now, a month later. But at the time, I didn’t know just how little I knew, so I continued to shoot away whenever any bird flew close enough for me to test the camera out.

Male ring-necked duck in flight

Male ring-necked duck in flight

Since I had just upgraded from the 60D, I was using the settings that I had learned worked well for it for my settings in the 7D. I can’t say that those settings were totally wrong, but close to it, the 7D is an entirely new ballgame compared to the 60D, as far as its capabilities, and the settings I should be using to get the best out of it. However, I don’t want to get too technical, as I did in a previous post.

So, I walked the trail that leads to the Muskegon River from the parking area at Lane’s Landing, carrying the Beast in my hands, with the 7D and 300 mm lens slung around my neck. If I saw a perched bird, I used the Beast…

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow

Swamp sparrow singing

Swamp sparrow singing

…and if a bird flew past me, I’d set the Beast down on the ground and grab the 7D…

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

…to shoot shots like that one.

It works well enough, if I have the time to set the Beast down somewhere safe, and if I have the time to make the switch, as I did when I noticed a large, lanky bird flying towards me.

Osprey

Osprey

I find it just a bit odd that there aren’t more osprey around the area, as it seems like it would be the perfect habitat for them, with the open waters of Lake Michigan, Muskegon Lake, the Muskegon River, and other bodies of water close by. Maybe it’s because there are so many bald eagles in the area already? It would be great to see more osprey, as they are still rare here in west Michigan.

Anyway, I continued to the river and back, shooting these on my way.

Male hairy woodpecker

Male hairy woodpecker

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Blue-grey gnatcatcher

Hermit thrush

Hermit thrush

I was a week or two too early for many of the migrating birds, so I didn’t find much to photograph there at Lane’s Landing. It was much the same at the headquarters of the Muskegon State Game Area, even though I walked farther there than I have ever walked before. Most of the birds and other subjects that I found to shoot were within sight of the headquarters building and parking lot, like these tree swallows checking out a nesting box.

Tree swallows

Tree swallows

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Sorry for so many photos of the swallows, but they are one of my favorite species of birds, and difficult to get a good photo of, or at least it used to be. I seem to be doing quite well with them this spring, as you will see.

Here’s a species that I see often, but it’s another that I have trouble getting good photos of, bluebirds. Like wood ducks, I see them, but can never get close to them to get a really good photo, so these will have to do.

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird

Eastern bluebird in flight

Eastern bluebird in flight

I shot those while I was standing in the parking lot of the headquarters, and chatting with two conservation officers from the Michigan DNR. They found my efforts rather humorous, a couple of great guys.

I’m going to throw in a little side note here. I have the new iMac, new to me software in Lightroom, and the new 7D camera, and I’m in seventh heaven! There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t learn something new about at least one of those items, often it’s more than one thing. I love to learn, so that’s making this a lot of fun to me, but I am so tempted to do post after post of me telling you of what I’ve learned. I’ve already done too much of that in the past, so I’m holding back even though it’s hard for me.

Anyway, back to the post at hand. Since this trip was before the spring migration got into full swing, I hadn’t seen many birds on this day. So, I headed over to the wastewater treatment facility, where I knew that there’d be at least waterfowl to photograph. I may as well begin this segment out with the worst photo from the day that I’m going to post, a pair of bald eagles hiding in the trees.

Bald eagles

Bald eagles

Since the ice is off the lakes, the eagles that overwinter near Muskegon have returned to their summer homes, so I see fewer of them now. What I can’t figure out is why the last few times that I have seen them, they’ve been hiding back in the tree branches like songbirds do. Oh well, it’s still a thrill to see them even if the view is obscured.

Okay, now for the waterfowl from the day.

Gadwall

Gadwall

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

This mallard was reaching up and nipping the buds off from the bush above him.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male mallard

It’s no wonder that there are mallards everywhere, they’ll eat just about anything that doesn’t eat them. 😉

I still had the Beast on a 60D body, and it seemed as though every bird began to move at about the time I was almost ready to press the shutter.

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

Horned grebe taking flight

American coot taking flight

American coot taking flight

People think of grebes and coots as ducks, but they’re not. They don’t have webbed feet as true ducks do, as you can see in these photos. They have fleshy appendages on their oversized feet that are similar to the webbing of a duck’s foot, but both grebes and coots still have individual toes. Both species also have very small wings, so it takes them a great deal of effort to get airborne. You know that they are very skittish when you see them take off and fly, both of them would rather swim from danger than fly if possible.

Of course the birds that I would have liked to have seen fly wouldn’t, so I can’t show you the blue wing patches that gave this species its name.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

The rarest bird of the day was this female Lapland longspur.

Female lapland longspur

Female Lapland longspur

I wish that it had been a male, I could use photos of a male in breeding plumage, but the only times I’ve seen this species before has been in the fall when the sexes look similar.

The second rare bird that I got was a peregrine falcon.

Peregrine falcon in flight

Peregrine falcon in flight

IMG_4378

Peregrine falcon in flight

I was hoping that it would land and perch for some close-ups, but no luck there.

These are the only birds that wanted their portrait taken.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Even the turkeys were running away from me.

Turkey

Turkey

It’s been just over two years now since I replaced my old Nikon with the first of two Canon 60D bodies, and began collecting lenses to use with them. During those two years, I’ve been prattling on about photography and gear more than nature.

It’s been just about a month now that I’ve had the new 7D Mk II. I’m not going to say that I have it all figured out yet, far from it. Canon has a 56 page manual on how to get the most from the auto-focus system alone, it’s that complicated. However, I can already tell it’s as close to perfect for me as there is on the market right now. It’s going to allow me to get the shots that I’ve been missing with the 60D, as far as action shots.

All the pieces of the photography puzzle are coming together nicely right now, I have one large piece to go, along with some accessories to pick-up over time, but I think that my posts where I go on and on about photography are nearing an end, and I’ll be getting back to blogging about my observations of what I see in nature.

This little guy probably says it best, “It’s about time!”

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


The birding big day, my way, in rain and fog most of the day

Okay, I’m jumping way ahead with this post. May 9th was the Birding Big Day, when every one is supposed to go out and count birds. Well, I did it my way, photographing the birds rather than counting. I have two warnings to begin with, I went for the largest number of species that I could get a photo of, and there will be too many photos in this post. On top of that, many of the photos are of rather poor quality, because the weather was horrible for photography, and I was chasing numbers, not quality.

Why else would I post a photo like this….

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

…when I have photos like this of the same species saved and waiting for me to have time to post it?

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

Well, it was because I was trying to see how many species of birds I could shoot in one day. Better weather would have helped, in both image quality and number of species, but I think that I did okay.

So, it was raining with a bit of fog in the air as I got ready to leave home, but I was able to get an early start on the birds with this photo, taken outside of my apartment as I was packing my camera gear into my car.

Canada goose and goslings

Canada goose and goslings

I knew that over near Lake Michigan would be my best bet for racking up the greatest number of species, but on the other hand, I also knew that the places that I usually go would be packed with other birders out for the Big Day bird count. So, I began my quest at Olive Shores Park, near Port Sheldon, Michigan. I had never been there before, I was actually headed somewhere else, but I saw the signs, and decided to check it out.

With the rain and fog, I was using the new 7D Mk II with the 300 mm L series lens on it, since they’re both weather sealed. I missed a few birds because the 300 mm lens didn’t have the reach that I needed, but the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) isn’t weather sealed, and the rain never let up. I did get this photo of a chipping sparrow there though.

Chipping sparrow

Chipping sparrow

Three species so far.

My next stop was the Palomita Nature Reserve, which I saw signs for along the road as I was driving to the first park. The Palomita Reserve is owned by the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, is approximately 40 acres in size, and protects the Great Lakes marsh at the mouth of Little Pigeon Creek. I had never been there either, but I’m sure that I’ll return. I’d tell you why, but this post is going to be too long as it is. So, here are the birds that I got there.

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Wood ducks

Wood ducks

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird

Common yellowthroat

Common yellowthroat

White-crowned sparrow

White-crowned sparrow

American robin

American robin

Up to ten species, and I was just getting started.

My next stop was Grand Haven, Michigan. I hadn’t planned on stopping at the Grand River channel, but as I was driving past it, I spotted a Caspian tern, so I pulled into the city park there to try for a photo. I got it.

Caspian tern in flight

Caspian tern in flight

I could say something about the jerks that walked right in front of me, even though I asked them not to, but I won’t. I could also rave about the auto-focusing system of the 7D, but I’ll save that for a later post. 😉

Eleven species.

My real goal near Grand Haven was Harbor Island, which I have written about in the past. It was filled with birds, and there, I managed to get these.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Spotted sandpiper in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Warbling vireo

Warbling vireo

Double crested cormorant in flight

Double crested cormorant in flight

Brown-headed cowbird

Brown-headed cowbird

Northern flicker

Northern flicker

JVIS1586

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler

JVIS1602

Song sparrow

About this time, the rain let up, so I switched to the Beast, which helped a lot to get these next ones.

 

American goldfinch

American goldfinch

Scarlet tanager

Scarlet tanager

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

Blue jay

Blue jay

Mute swan

Mute swan

Up to twenty-seven species so far, not that the photos are that great. I wouldn’t have included the last two, and never even would have tried the last one of the swan if I hadn’t been going for numbers.

You can see that the sun came out for a while, but that was short-lived. By the time that I made it to my next stop of the day, the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, the rain and fog had returned. The rain was light, so I stuck with the Beast for these.

Palm warbler

Palm warbler

Eastern kingbird

Eastern kingbird

Grey catbird

Grey catbird

Common grackle

Common grackle

Baltimore oriole

Baltimore oriole

Male northern cardinal

Male northern cardinal

Those put me up to thirty-three species for the day, but the rain began coming down harder, too hard for me to be carrying the Beast around unprotected. So, I headed towards the Muskegon County wastewater facility, where I could bird by car, and I thought that I’d be able to really rack up some big numbers there.

However, the weather continued to go downhill, and the birds were more skittish than I had ever seen them there. I think that there had been numerous people there earlier for the Big Day bird count. I had already run into quite a few other birders that day, and I’m sure that the wastewater facility had been hit hard earlier. But, I managed to add a few more species to my total for the day, even though some of these photos are bad, really bad.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Turkeys

Turkeys

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

Northern shoveler

Northern shoveler

Common mergansers

Common mergansers

American coot

American coot

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

Bonaparte's gull

Bonaparte’s gull

Gadwall

Gadwall

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

American crow

American crow

That makes 46 species, and the next one not only added to the daily list, but my life list as well, a vesper sparrow.

Vesper sparrow

Vesper sparrow

I had considered packing it in, but the Lifer prompted me to carry on. I didn’t know that I was up to 47 species, I had been too busy trying to get the photos to keep count.

It was getting close to dusk, but the rain let up, so I was able to add these to my list for the day.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Common raven

Common raven

Snowy owl

Snowy owl

Upland sandpiper

Upland sandpiper

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

Least sandpipers

Least sandpipers

Lesser yellowlegs

Lesser yellowlegs

So there you’ve it, 54 species of birds photographed on the Big Day. There were a few notable misses, like the common tern or red-breasted nuthatch, but I don’t think that 54 species photographed in a day is too shabby, even if some of the photos are.

In other news, I’ve ordered faster memory cards for the new 7D, that will help a lot.

In work related news, on Tuesday at 2 AM, I start my bid run, which I’ll be doing every day unless the load is cancelled for some reason. Every three months, the company that I work for opens up the dedicated runs that they have available for us to bid on, based on seniority. I lucked out and got one of the runs towards the top of my list. I chose it so that I would work Tuesday through Saturday, with Sundays and Mondays off. That way I can schedule any appointments such as dentist or what have you on Mondays without worrying about my work schedule. It will also mean that I’ll have an entire weekday off from work for outdoor things when the parks shouldn’t be so crowded.

The run that I got can be completed in eight hours if everything goes to plan, and then I have the option of working longer if I choose to, or calling it a day. Two AM may not sound like an ideal start time, but I think it will work well for me. During the week, I should be able to get a walk in after work, and on weekends, I can sleep in, and still be up at dawn, my favorite part of the day.

Anyway, sorry for the poor quality of the photos in this post, but considering the weather, the 7D did quite well.

In reality, this day wasn’t much different as far as the species that I see on any given day, but this time I went for numbers, rather than shooting more photos of fewer species, when I could get very close, and had the best lighting of the day.

I still have photos from three previous trips to the lakeshore area, and a few from around home yet to post. Hopefully, my new work schedule will allow me more time for blogging as well as getting out more than I’ve been able to the last few months.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon birding April 12th, The one/two punch

I wished that I had received my new Canon 7D Mk II to use this trip, as it would have been a great day to test the auto-focusing system of that camera. I couldn’t have asked for better weather, the day began cool and clear, but quickly warmed up to be the warmest day so far this year, and the warmest since the end of October. For once, no lake effect clouds developed in the afternoon to block the sun.

You’re probably tired of hearing this, but I purchased a Canon 300 mm L series lens to use as an alternative to the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens) due to the weight of the Beast, and because it is far from the ideal lens to use when trying to photograph birds in flight. On this day, I took both of them with me while I was hiking. I set-up one camera body with the 300 mm lens on it specifically to capture birds in flight, and set the lens for that as well. I think that it worked well enough.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

I set-up the second body with the Beast on it to shoot stationary birds….

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…even if they didn’t remain stationary for very long…

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

…and did their best to elude the camera.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

On this trip, I began the day at Lane’s Landing, which is in the Muskegon State Game Area, as the birding reports showed some promise that I may find a few rare birds there. Unfortunately, I never did get a lifer on this day, but still, it was a glorious day to be out and about.

I had just started my walk at Lane’s Landing when a pair of mallards took off, and I hadn’t figured out exactly how I was going to carry and use both cameras with long, heavy lenses on them, so this was shot with the Beast.

Male mallards in flight

Male mallards in flight

I let the one body with the 300 mm lens on it dangle on the camera strap around my neck, and carried the other body with the Beast on it in my hands. That wasn’t comfortable for very long, but it was the only way of carrying both set-ups with me.

I tried to get a clear photo of some fox sparrows I spotted, but once again, they managed to stay partially hidden all the time.

Fox sparrow

Fox sparrow

The song sparrows must have been taking lessons from their cousins.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

In fact, that seemed to be the theme of the early part of the day, the birds were doing very well at staying partially hidden from me.

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

Male hooded merganser

That was the closest that I’ve ever been to a hooded merganser, but I had to shoot through the vegetation, so the photos aren’t very good.

I had slightly better luck with a ring-necked duck.

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

Ring-necked duck

At least there was more distance between the reeds and the duck so that the reeds don’t show as much in those photos, but they sort of spoiled these next two.

Ring-necked duck taking flight

Ring-necked duck taking flight

IMG_4122

Ring-necked duck taking flight

At least when the ducks really got airborne, I didn’t have to deal with the vegetation any longer.

Ring-necked duck in flight

Ring-necked duck in flight

I shot this one, just because it says spring with a song sparrow surrounded by the maple blossoms.

Spring song sparrow

Spring song sparrow

And, I shot this one just because I liked it.

Flood reflections

Flood reflections

The storms which spawned the deadly tornadoes in Illinois last week crossed Lake Michigan and hit the West Michigan area quite hard also. We didn’t have the severe weather, but the storms did drop copious amounts of rain, so many areas of both Lane’s Landing, and the state game headquarters area were under water.

Some boring camera talk follows, so you may want to scroll past this section.

I had set-up the camera body with just the 300 mm lens on it to servo auto-focus and high-speed continuous shooting, along with some other adjustments specifically for birds in flight. I didn’t use the 1.4 X tele-converter, as I wanted to see just how quickly and accurately the lens could focus without the extender. At 300 mm, the lens wasn’t long enough to get good close-ups of birds in flight, but that was okay for this day, as it was only a test of sorts.

Whenever I spotted a bird in flight, I would set down the camera with the Beast on it, and begin shooting with the 300 mm lens ass soon as the bird got within range.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

It didn’t take me long to get an idea of how many frames the camera could shoot before the buffer filled, so I shot in quick bursts. When I first looked at the images after downloading them to the computer, I thought that they were all very good. But as I zoomed in on each photo, I found that only about a third of the images were really as sharp as I would like.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Two thirds of the images were a bit soft from the focus being off slightly, but since I had shot so many photos, I came up with quite a few good ones. By the way, there were two hawks there at the time, I don’t know if they are a mated pair, or just happened to be hunting together.

Red-tailed hawks in flight

Red-tailed hawks in flight

I also got a sandhill crane, one of many that I heard and saw, but only this one flew close enough for a photo.

Sandhill crane in flight

Sandhill crane in flight

Without the tele-converter behind it, the 300 mm lens did an excellent job of auto-focusing on the flying birds that I shot on this day, the problem is, 300 mm just isn’t long enough most of the time. I will say that this set-up was a joy to use, much lighter and easier to swing around and follow moving birds than the Beast is. I had the hare-brained thought of canceling the 7D Mk II and going for the 400 mm L series lens instead, except for the number of rejects that I still got.

News flash!

I am now (finally) the proud owner of a Canon 7D Mk II! I picked it up this morning, and managed to get in a walk in the rain to break it in the hard way. I won’t include any of the few photos that I shot, since the weather was so poor for photography, I gave the camera the torture test by trying shots that I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get with the 60D that I currently use.

Three things stood out right away about the 7D, the auto-focus is light years ahead of the 60D, but it’s going to take me a while to learn how to take full advantage of its capabilities. It has 65 focus points versus 9 for the 60D, and a lot more flexibility in using them. I can use any one of the focus points, use small groups of them, medium size groups of them, one-third of them as a group, or all 65 at once. In addition, there are six preloaded scenarios for how the camera tracks moving subjects, and those can be fine tuned even more to suit the subjects that I shoot.

The exposure meter is also much improved over the 60D, I didn’t make many adjustments to the exposure as the system in the 7D got it right nearly every time, despite the dreadful conditions, something that I didn’t expect.

Also, while the weather was poor today while I was out, I think that the 7D is going to produce better quality images over what the 60D is capable of, which is another pleasant surprise.

What the heck, I’ll throw in one image from this morning, because it shows how the 7D produces images that have a “finished” look to them.

Female mallard

Female mallard

Not all my images from this morning looked that good, but I was testing the auto-focus to see if it could zero in on small birds in the brush, and for the first time ever, I was able to get reasonably good shots of the birds while using the 300 mm lens without having to help the lens out.

Anyway, I’ll have a lot more to say about the 7D in coming posts, so back to the trip at hand.

I had walked as much of the Lane’s Landing area as I could without a wetsuit and snorkel, so my next stop was the headquarters area of the Muskegon State Game Area. That’s where I got the photos of the yellow butt, and my first turtle of the year.

Painted turtle sunning

Painted turtle sunning

I saw plenty of birds, but due to the flooding, I wasn’t able to get close to any of them, other than the warbler above. But, this is where the 300 mm lens’ ability to focus quite close came into play.

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly getting a drink

Comma butterfly and a few flies getting a drink

Willow? catkins

Alder? catkins

I’ll tell you, carrying two cameras, one with the Beast on it, the other with the 300 mm lens on it was no fun, but they do make a great combination! The Beast is the Beast, it gets the small birds trying to hide, and at a pretty good distance away from me. The 300 mm lens did great on flying birds, and also serves well as a near macro lens for small subjects too close for the Beast to focus on.

Those were the only photos that I shot at the Headquarters area, so it was on to the wastewater treatment facility to shoot some ducks.

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

With some good light for a change, I thought that I was going to get a good shot of a male bufflehead to show how colorful they are….

Bufflehead ducks

Bufflehead ducks

…but the female ran in front of the male as I was shooting, which ruined the photo, and prompted the male to go after her.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

I think that it was the reflection of the bright sunlight that caused this lesser scaup’s head to be lit in a weird way.

Lesser scaup

Lesser scaup

I got my best photo ever of a pie-billed grebe!

Pie-billed grebe

Pie-billed grebe

I wasn’t so lucky with a pair of horned grebes. I saw them and put the camera on the one in front, just as it dove…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

…when it popped back up, I found that it was a female, which don’t have the pronounced “horns” that the male does…

Horned grebes

Horned grebes

…and when I went for the male, it dove just as I snapped the shot.

Horned grebe

Horned grebe

There were a few ruddy ducks around.

Ruddy duck

Ruddy duck

As well as a few canvasbacks.

Canvasback duck

Canvasback duck

Next up (literally), a pair of blue-winged teal.

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

One of them took off, the other turned towards me while preparing for blast-off…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…most ducks run on top of the water to build up speed to get airborne, not the teal, they explode straight up…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…which I wasn’t expecting as you can see. I got the Beast moving fast enough to catch up with the teal…

Blue-winged teal

Blue-winged teal

…but the camera and lens were moving too quickly for a sharp photo, until the teal leveled off.

Blue-winged teal in flight

Blue-winged teal in flight

The Beast is much better suited to stationary birds, and it gave me my two best photos to date of a male bufflehead.

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

Male bufflehead duck

And before I move on to other types of birds…

Northern shovelers

Northern shovelers

American coot

American coot

…all in all, a pretty good variety of ducks on this day, and in breeding plumage in good light for a change.

The tree swallows have just arrived, and they’ve already begun building nests.

Tree swallow

Tree swallow

I’m going to end this one with a few more birds in flight, starting with a male northern harrier, sometimes called grey ghosts, as they are typically much lighter than the females.

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

Male northern harrier in flight

I had to include the butt shot to verify that it was a northern harrier, the white band around the base of the tail is a dead give away.

Since I’m on butt shots, another red-tailed hawk.

Red-tailed hawk in flight

Red-tailed hawk in flight

And to wrap this up, a turkey vulture.

Turkey vulture in flight

Turkey vulture in flight

It’s Monday morning, just after 8 AM, and I just got home from work. The weather is cool but clear, and I’m tempted to grab the 7D and head out for a walk. However, I’m dead tired and really need some sleep, so I think that I’ll hold off for now and go out this afternoon after I’ve slept. There’s no reason to attempt to learn the new camera when my mind isn’t working, so that’s it for this one.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Muskegon birding March 28th, mostly songbirds

Way back on March 28th, I went to Muskegon to see if I could find any rare migrant birds, no luck there. However, I did get quite a few really good photos of some of the early arriving songbirds, although not every one would consider the common grackle to be a songbird. 😉

Male common grackle

Male common grackle

They may produce many sounds, but song isn’t the word that comes to mind when I hear them. I don’t name or classify birds, I just photograph them. 😉

Anyway, I began at the wastewater treatment facility, where I didn’t find many things to photograph. There was a rough-legged hawk, but too far away for a good photo.

Rough-legged hawk

Rough-legged hawk

I saw these rocks and their reflections in the water, and shot this specifically to play with in Lightroom.

Lightroom tests

Lightroom tests

It may not look like it, but I spent more time in Lightroom working on that photo than any other so far. Not that there’s a lot of difference between this and the original image, as the original was quite good to begin with. This one was all about very small changes to many of the settings in Lightroom to fine tune an image while learning Lightroom.

I probably should have used some of what I learned in that previous image for these, but what I was after with these was showing the “horns” of a horned lark, which gave it its name.

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

Horned lark

You can see that it was still very early in the morning from the long shadow being cast by the lark. So early that I caught a small herd of deer feeding in one of the fields.

Whitetail deer

Whitetail deer

If you remember the video of the male hooded mergansers displaying for a female…

…here’s two still photos that I shot and had to crop way too far.

Male hooded mergansers

Male hooded mergansers

Male hooded mergansers

Male hooded mergansers

Here’s a few of the geese that were adding their honking to the video…

Canada geese

Canada geese

…and one of the male red-winged blackbirds that provided background sounds as well.

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Sorry for posting three photos of the same bird, but I love the fact that by using Lightroom to tweak these, I can get mostly black birds to look in my photos the way that they look in real life.

My next stop was the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve…

A glorious day!

A glorious day!

…which is on the other side of the Muskegon River from the power-plant that you can see in the background. It was a glorious day as you can see, but still a bit on the cold side.

Sunny and warm, but still lots of ice left

Sunny and warm, but still lots of ice left

I sat under the edge of the shelter that’s there at the preserve, shooting the songbirds in the brush around the shelter.

American robin

American robin

Black-capped chickadee

Black-capped chickadee

American robin

American robin

Male red-winged blackbird

Male red-winged blackbird

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

Common grackle

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

I also found a few things other than birds to shoot photos of.

Larch cones

Larch cones

Larch cones

Larch cones

Catkins

Catkins

Tree leaf bud about to open

Tree leaf bud about to open

Last fall's seed pods

Last fall’s seed pods

Now then, I must apologize for not properly identifying some of those things, but I’m rushing through this post for a reason.

It’s the early pre-dawn hours on Saturday as I’m throwing this post together. Because of changes to my work schedule this week, I ran over to the camera store yesterday afternoon after I finished working for the week, to pick-up the new 7D Mk II camera that I’ve been saving for. My plan was to make the purchase, then come home, unpack the camera, and get the battery charged as I slept. However, they were out of camera only kits at the store, so I have the free spare battery, 32GB SD card, and a HDMI cable that are part of the current promotion from Canon, but no camera. That’s supposed to arrive around noon today, Saturday.

My new plan is this, I’m rushing through this post, which I won’t publish until Sunday night or Monday. As soon as it’s light (and warm) enough this morning, I’m going to go for my regular walk using my “old” 60D bodies. Then, I’ll pick-up the new 7D Mk II, and return to the park to try it out, since I’ve charged the spare battery already. So, by the time that you read this, I’ll have already been out with the new camera, and will have tons of photos to review taken with it. Depending on how the photos from Saturday look, and how quickly I’m able to get the basics of the 7D down, I may well go to Muskegon on Sunday, or at least somewhere other than around home, to shoot another ton of photos to review. At least that’s the plan as of right now. I may very well throw in a photo or two shot with the new camera here towards the end, since I won’t be publishing this post as soon as it’s done.

Anyway, here’s a mute swan that I shot at Muskegon State Park, which was my last stop of the day on this trip.

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

Mute swan

I walked back to the eagle nest there at the state park, but I couldn’t tell if the female was on the nest or not. On the way to the nest, I shot this photo just to test something out…

Along the trail on a great spring day

Along the trail on a great spring day

…and tried a quick HDR image of the same scene.

Along the trail on a great spring day, HDR

Along the trail on a great spring day, HDR

I think that I didn’t get the exposure settings correct for the HDR version, as there’s not much difference between the two.

An update, so much for the best laid plans of mice, men, and camera buyers. My new camera did not arrive at the store today as scheduled, they had vehicle problems. The camera was coming from Kalamazoo, Michigan, less than an hour south of here. So much for local knowledge and service, this will be the last purchase I make at the local store!

I had called earlier in the week to let them know I’d be there this weekend sometime to pick that camera up, but they didn’t send one then. I’ll tell you, I’m close to cussing some one out, which I don’t make a habit of doing. That store used to be good, but they’ve got a bunch of flakes working there now, you can’t depend on their advice, that’s been proven to be incorrect more often than not, and you can’t depend on them to do what they say they’ll do.

I should go back and rework this post, but I don’t feel like it now, I’m thoroughly ticked off to put it mildly. So, I’m going to throw in a couple of more photos of the bee from my last post….

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

Bee in a crocus flower

…the first field sparrow of the spring…

Field sparrow

Field sparrow

…and an artsy shot that I took this morning, before I learned my camera hadn’t been shipped.

Foggy morning

Foggy morning

It’s a beautiful spring day outside, I’ve already done one walk, as soon as I finish some chores, I’m going to do another. Hopefully, I’ll get better photos of the first meadowlark to show up here this spring…

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

…and the eastern phoebe that has also returned.

Eastern phoebe

Eastern phoebe

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Lake Michigan birding March 22nd, The long boring version

It’s Sunday afternoon as I start this, the wind is howling like banshee outside in advance of the snow that’s forecast to arrive later. I’m sure glad that I got my walk in early this morning!

But, that is this weekend, the weather was just about as cold as it was yesterday and today last weekend when I went to the Lake Michigan shoreline. I arrived in Grand Haven just as it was beginning to get light. I had planned to go back and get better images of the breakwater and lighthouse while the lights were on for some time, ever since I tried shooting the scene handheld several weeks ago. There wasn’t as much ice left on the breakwater as there had been before, but I still set-up my tripod and camera to capture the scene anyway.

Grand Haven breakwater at dawn

Grand Haven breakwater at dawn

That’s the HDR version, otherwise, the photo is practically devoid of color, other than the white lights. I shot several series of photos to get that one HDR image, and I was about to fold the tripod up to put it away, when I saw the sunrise beginning to show signs of being a good one, in the other direction. So, despite my fingers going numb from the cold, I set-up to shoot this one, more for practice than anything else. I haven’t done much night photography since I switched from film to digital, and I thought that the practice would be just the ticket.

Sunrise over Grand Haven from Grand Haven State Park

Sunrise over Grand Haven from Grand Haven State Park

The only reason that I’m including that one is so that you can see what Grand Haven State Park is like. The yellow lines on the pavement denote the “campsites”. You should see that park in the summer, the “campers” are packed in there like sardines! Yet, that campground is almost always full, just because it is right on the beach. Not my cup of tea in any way, shape, or form.

I knew that there wasn’t time to drive to a more scenic spot, so I did the best that I could from that location.

Grand Haven, Michigan sunrise

Grand Haven, Michigan sunrise

Then, much to my surprise, the red in the sky extended well past me to the west, over the breakwater, so I turned around again for this one from my last post.

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Sunrise at the Grand Haven breakwater

Okay then, time for me to prattle on a little. As you know, I’ve had my new iMac and Lightroom for just over a month, and I’m continuing to learn new things all the time. One thing that I’ve learned, and this may sound silly, is to not sit as close to the computer screen as I used to when I still used the old laptop. The display of this new iMac is huge, when I’m working on a photo in Lightroom, the image is a little larger than an eight by ten print, which shows all the flaws in an image even before I crop the image at all. Taking a cropped image up to that size makes it look as though the quality of the image is the pits, but it isn’t really as bad as it appears to be.

And, there is so much to learn in Lightroom, I found another series of tutorials online, these are from Adobe, the company that publishes Lightroom. They are much shorter than the two tutorials that I posted links to in the past, these average about twenty minutes long. However, they sure pack a lot into a very short time, I’m glad that I started with the two longer videos from B&H Photo to get to know Lightroom, now, I can almost keep up as I learn new tricks for using it in these videos from Adobe.

And, there are so many tricks to learn in Lightroom, not just editing photos, but storing, organizing, and finding the exact photo that one is looking for. There’s often several ways to accomplish any task, so the learning continues.

Lightroom is an amazing program, but I’d rather not turn this blog into yet another “how to” blog about Lightroom, there seems to be plenty of sources for tips about using it already available.

News flash, I came home from work on Monday afternoon after working a fourteen hour shift, only to find that my apartment had been flooded again, this time by a pipe that burst in my neighbors apartment. This flood was much worse than the one back in January, the damage from which they had never gotten around to repairing yet. Just as well, they would have had to do most of it all over again.

To make a long story short, I spent three nights in motels, two nights at my expense, one night on the company that I work for expense, as I did an overnight run to southern Ohio since I couldn’t stay in my apartment anyway. So, that’s the reason I was late replying to comments here, and got behind on other people’s blogs. Sorry, I had no internet access for most of this week. That’s also put me way behind in my blogging.

As it happened, I worked close enough to what I can legally work for a week by Thursday afternoon, that I have Friday off, and don’t have to return to work until Monday evening, a nice long Easter weekend for me. I went for a walk in the morning, talked to the maintenance supervisor about how the repairs had or had not been done, and I’ve been doing some major cleaning since then. A maintenance person showed up to do the last of the needed repairs, but most of the clean up of my property remains for me to do. The only thing the maintenance people care about is the company’s property, the carpeting and drywall, my stuff is my problem. Oh well, at least nothing was damaged.

Now then, back to the trip at hand.

Because it was still so cold out, I drove to several spots in Grand Haven where I could scope out the Grand River and other waterways, including Harbor Island, using my binoculars to see if there were any waterfowl or other birds worth trying to photograph. The only photos that I shot during this portion of the trip were of the first killdeer I’d seen this spring.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I drove to the north, to the Mona Lake channel and Lake Harbor Park to see what, if anything there was worth photographing. I found the first song sparrow of the year there.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

A few common mergansers.

Common mergansers in flight

Common mergansers in flight

Common merganser

Common merganser

My first American coot of the year.

American coot

American coot

Although it was still a bit early for good light for photography, as you can see. I walked the trail along the Mona Lake channel to the Lake Michigan shore, pausing to shoot one of the last American tree sparrows of the spring, as these will be heading north to their breeding grounds soon.

American tree sparrow

American tree sparrow

Most of the ice on Lake Michigan had melted, but what was left had been piled up along the shore by the wind, so I shot a few photos, using the wrong lens.

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

Spring ice on Lake Michigan

I shot those using the Beast (Sigma 150-500 mm lens), but I wished that I had taken one of my short lenses with me for those photos, to give you all a wider view of the icebergs on the lake.

Anyway, as I was walking back to the parking area, I saw a juvenile bald eagle flying in my direction. I was watching it through tree branches as it approached, so I couldn’t start shooting as soon as I saw it, but that worked out well, for I had time to get the camera and the Beast set-up for when the eagle cleared the trees.

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

Juvenile bald eagle in flight

That wasn’t cropped at all, that’s how close to me the eagle flew as it cleared the trees.

The eagle continued on, out over Mona Lake, I could post a few more not as good shots of the eagle as it did, but then something happened that was more interesting. One of the many gulls hanging around the area began attacking the eagle.

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

The eagle turned around, flying back in my direction, with the gull hot on its tail.

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Gull attacking a bald eagle

Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll catch something like this happening when there’s good light so my photos will be better. But, that’s the way it goes for me. I guess that I’m luckier than most, as I see these things more often than most people, but seldom in good light. I do find it interesting that on one day, the eagles will be chasing the gulls, looking for an easy meal, the next day, the gulls will be chasing the eagles away. How do they decide who is going to chase who each day?

Anyway, my next stop was the Muskegon Lake channel, then it was on to the Muskegon Lake Nature Preserve, and I’m not going to add any of the few photos that I shot at either of those locations. The light was still poor, and the things that I saw weren’t that noteworthy.  That changed at the next stop, the Bear Lake channel to Muskegon Lake.

That’s not one of my usual stops, as there’s no public access there, other than the parking lot of the Bear Lake Tavern. Since it was still relatively early on a Sunday morning, the tavern was closed, so I stopped to shoot a few photos of the mallards there. The weather was finally getting better, and playing with the mallards seemed like a good way to get some practice.

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Male Mallard

Since I had all my camera gear with me in my car, I had switched to using one body with just the 300 mm L series lens on one body, and the 70-200 mm L series lens on the other, as I could easily get too close to the mallards with either lens.

I was a bit surprised to see a pair of Pekin ducks there…

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

Pekin ducks

…and I was even more surprised when this guy came out from under one of the boat ducks along the channel to pose for me!

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

So, I hung around the area, shooting the mallards, the wood duck, and a few gulls that showed up, trying various lenses and settings for these.

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Female mallard/black duck hybrid

Male mallard

Male mallard

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Male wood duck

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Ring-billed gull in flight

Mallards in flight

Mallards in flight

Male mallard in flight

Male mallard in flight

The last two images were shot with the Beast, as I had switched back to that lens as I prepared to leave.

My last stop of the day was the portion of Muskegon State Park on the north side of the Muskegon Lake channel. The only photos that I shot were of a male northern cardinal as he sang.

Male northern cardinal singing

Male northern cardinal singing

So, I switched my camera over to shoot video, for those of you who have never heard a cardinal’s song.

Not great, but do you know how hard it is to hold a camera with the Beast on it stationary at 500 mm when pointed nearly straight up and at arm’s length?

So, that wraps up another one, it’s early on Saturday morning now, I have my apartment in a livable condition for now, although I still have a lot of work left to do. But, I’m going to take this morning off, and head to the Pickerel Lake Nature Preserve to see what I can find there while the weather is fairly nice. The forecast is for rain/snow mixed tomorrow, that’s apartment cleaning weather.

That this is it for this one, thanks for stopping by!